Category: Environmental Education

A Reevaluation: Does Environmentalism Necessarily Mean Radicalism?

What does the average citizen think of when they hear the term environmentalist?

Answer: a tree-hugging, bulldozer-sabotaging, disobedient hippie, who hates modernization and technological innovation. However, while these connotations may apply to some (very few) environmentalists, I assure you that this is a completely skewed and absurd definition.

Nevertheless, environmentalists have understandably earned this bad reputation over years as a result of their ever-increasing radical approaches. In cahoots with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), they have repeatedly blocked legislation that would have created jobs and improved the economy. Although I consider myself environmentally-friendly, I shy away from terming myself an “environmentalist” due to all of the negative connotations that come along with the label.

However, a point of clarification needs to be made with regards to the term. Here is Britannica Encyclopedia’s definition ofenvironmentalism:

Environmentalism is a political and ethical movement that seeks to improve and protect the quality of the natural environment through changes to environmentally harmful human activities; through the adoption of forms of political, economic, and social organization that are thought to be necessary for, or at least conducive to, the benign treatment of the environment by humans; and through a reassessment of humanity’s relationship with nature. In various ways, environmentalism claims that living things other than humans, and the natural environment as a whole, are deserving of consideration in reasoning about the morality of political, economic, and social policies.

Often times, environmentalists tend to focus on one issue at a time, such as climate change or conservation or pollution. As a result of this myopic perspective and a manipulation of the above definition, environmentalists solely intend to limit human interaction with the environment. Thus, they have earned their title as unreasonable and radical. However, if environmentalists want to actually take effective action, they need to reevaluate their objectives and start working with human interaction in the environment, “[reassessing] humanity’s relationship with nature.” Additionally, they need to have an agenda broader than simply one target issue.

Thus, if environmentalists choose to operate within the bright green framework, which encourages technological innovation and economic growth, they will be more effective in their wider range of feats. Furthermore, by aligning themselves more closely to the definition of environmentalism and avoiding radical, perverted interpretations, they will also garner a more favorable reputation.

Tanner Davis is a research associate at the National Center for Policy Analysis.

Environmentalism: Achievements and Mistakes

Nearly forty-four years ago, the first Earth Day energized the environmental movement. The event gave form and substance to long-simmering concerns about the environmental side effects of free enterprise. It empowered the leaders of the environmental movement to pursue safeguards through the political process.

Unfortunately, environmental leaders made a very costly, fundamental error at the outset. They misdiagnosed the problem. They attributed environmental problems to uncontrolled pursuit of profit, while the true source of the problems was poorly defined and un-enforced property rights. Consequently, they sought (with the best intentions) controls on behavior, rather property rights corrections.

Environment Policy Digest and the Global Warming Primer: For those who need to read!

It’s time I did some long overdue promoting of the entire gamut of the environmental work that the NCPA does.  If you are reading this, then you already know about my blog so I won’t dwell on it further.

First, I want to take a second chance to promote the NCPA’s new, updated edition of its best-selling Global Warming Primer.  This paper provides a great response to alarmists’ claims about the coming climate apocalypse.  It is a great educational publication for kids and adults.  You can download copies for free or you can get a hard copy for a small donation to the NCPA.  We have discounted rates for bulk orders (good for school presentations).  See the video first then explore the Primer online.

Second, if you don’t already, you should subscribe to Daily Policy Digest, the NCPA’s daily summary of the top five or six policy stories from papers, magazines and research papers each day.  Along with the daily short summaries, every week on Thursday you will receive a summary of the week’s environment policy stories – Environment Policy Digest.  This week’s issue can be found at the previous link.  Take time, look it over and look at the archives.  Good quick reading.

Finally, I’d like to promote the NCPA’s environment publications.  Like the blog, we publish work from the best scholars and researchers around the globe – experts in their fields.  Each publication is concise, easy to read and packed with information.


Environmentalists against humans: Green is the Color of Misanthropy

I have long noted a virulent strain of rabid misanthropy among the intelligentsia of the environmental movement.  From professors longing for the next deadly infectious disease strain to come along to philosophers who peg the ideal human population at 100 million, only 1.4 percent of the present population of 7.1 billion, hatred of humanity is not uncommon.

In a short but insightful article in 1990 Robert James Bidinotto quoted a number of environmental though leaders – and those down in the trenches – who displayed outright contempt for human aspirations, achievements and life.  For instance:

““Is it not perverse to prefer the lives of mice and guinea pigs to the lives of men and women?” asks philosopher Patrick Corbett. Not really, because “if we stand back from the scientific and technological rat race for a moment, we realize that, since animals are in many respects superior to ourselves, the argument collapses.”

“Man,” snarls Michael W. Fox in his book, Returning to Eden, “is the most dangerous, destructive, selfish and unethical animal on earth.” David Graber, a biologist for the National Park Service – [yes, he’s on the public payroll, authors observation], expressed his own hopes thusly:

Human happiness, and certainly human fecundity, are not as important as a wild and healthy planet. I know social scientists who remind me that people are part of nature, but it isn’t true. Somewhere along the line—at about a million years ago, maybe half that—we quit the contract and became a cancer. We have become a plague upon ourselves and upon the Earth . . . . Until such time as Homo Sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along.

Mr. Graber isn’t alone in his death wish for the human race, as Earth First! leader David Foreman makes dear: “We advocate bio-diversity for bio-diversity’s sake. That says man is no more important than any other species . . . . It may well take our extinction to set things straight.” Or how about this: “An ice age is coming, and I welcome it as a much needed cleansing. I see no solution to our ruination of Earth except for a drastic reduction of the human population.”

Foreman therefore finds a silver lining in the horrible Ethiopian famines: they are, he says, Mother Earth’s natural defense against overpopulation. Likewise, his group’s official publication has cheerfully suggested that, from an ecological perspective, the AIDS epidemic might mean the end of industrialism, which is “the main force behind the environmental crisis . . . . [Thus] as radical environmentalists, we can see AIDS not as a problem but a necessary solution.””

All of this came to mind as a read of the more subtle but no less deadly strain of misanthropy detailed in Larry Bell’s review of Robert Zubrin’s book, Merchants of Despair.  I haven’t had the pleasure and likely, disgust, of reading Zubrin’s book yet, but based on Bell’s recommendation, I’d guess is serves as a powerful indictment of much of the modern day environmental movement – in which case, it’s a must read.

Putting Reality back into Energy Education

A few weeks ago I was asked to join an effort to encourage university’s to not divest mainstream energy sources from their endowments.  Environmental lobbyists are encouraging students to blindly follow their claims concerning global warming and to protest colleges’ investments fossil fuel companies.  In response, some colleagues of mine put together an outstanding letter and proposal to improve the energy education at universities around the  country.

You can find the letter and list of signatories here:

Green Schools That Aren’t Very Green

A report in the USA Today found that “green” schools in other states don’t actually perform as promised. The report, “Green Schools: Long on promise, short on delivery,” gave this example from the Houston Independent School District:

The nation’s seventh-largest school district added features such as automated light sensors and a heat-reflecting roof, in hopes of minimizing energy use. But the schools are not operating as promised. Thompson Elementary ranked 205th out of 239 Houston schools in a report last year for the district that showed each school’s energy cost per student. Walnut Bend Elementary ranked 155th. A third “green” school, built in 2010, ranked 46th in the report, which a local utility did for the district to find ways of cutting energy costs.

The reporter even mentions one school from Washington state, where we’ve highlighted the failure of green schools for years:

…Washington Middle School in Olympia, Wash., [was] projected to use 28% less energy. The school consumed 19% more energy than a conventional school in its first two years, and 65% more than planned, a state report shows.

Of course, this is exactly what we found in our ongoing analysis of the state’s “green” buildings requirements. Schools cost more to build and then end up using more energy, not less, in most cases. The state itself confirmed those findings in its audit completed last year.

How much are these requirements costing taxpayers? Washington state’s experience is instructive. According to a new study from Washington State’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, the total cost of meeting the state’s mandates for “green” school construction cost an additional $11.4 million for 13 new schools built in the last two years.

As the USA Today article notes, the real winners with green building standards aren’t students or the environment. They are the architects and engineers who charge more to design these buildings, and the politicians who tout support for “green” standards in public campaigns, even if the schools are short on delivering real benefits.

Los Angeles Adds Rail, & $Billions, but Not Riders

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley – Thomas talks glowingly of rail transit in Los Angeles in a recent Honolulu Star-Advertiser commentary. However, nowhere did he say that rail transit had reduced traffic congestion or increased transit ridership. There is a good reason for this — it did not happen.

It is useful to consider the Los Angeles rail experience in comparison with the promises and expectations that existed when it was created. I was present at the creation and played a major role in the establishment of the Los Angeles rail system.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas represents the second district in Los Angeles County, which at one time was represented by Kenneth Hahn, a legendary fixture in Los Angeles governance for nearly 50 years. I had the pleasure of serving on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (LACTC) along with Supervisor Hahn, who I considered a good friend. LACTC was the top transportation policy authority in the nation’s largest county. I was appointed by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley to three terms on LACTC, whose membership also included the five county supervisors, the Mayor of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles City Council President, the Mayor of Long Beach and two elected officials from smaller cities. I was the only private citizen on the LACTC, which was a predecessor of the Los Angeles MTA, the body on which Supervisor Ridley – Thomas serves.

I had become involved in transportation issues because of my belief that building a rail system in Los Angeles would reduce its intense traffic congestion. In August of 1980, Supervisor (and LACTC chair) Hahn called a special meeting to consider his proposal for reduced fare program to be financed by a countywide sales tax, which LACTC would place on the ballot under its legislative authority. Fearing the loss of the most important opportunity to bring rapid transit to Los Angeles, I took the initiative to confer with Supervisor Baxter Ward, a strong rail supporter, who agreed to second a motion to dedicate 35% of the funds to rail after a three year reduced fare period (Supervisor Ward’s amendment to set-aside a larger share had been previously defeated). My motion passed, and was incorporated into the “Proposition A” ballot issue, which provided nearly all the funding for the first light rail line and substantial amounts of funding for four additional lines. My motion was the genesis of the Los Angeles rail system.

Meanwhile, two subsequent taxes were approved by voters to provide funding for urban rail, since the escalating costs of the rail system rendered the Proposition A sales tax insufficient to keep the promises made by LACTC. At the beginning of 2011, five rail lines radiated from the urban core, with a sixth (cross-town) line in the inner suburbs.

It is well to step back and review the results. Many self-proclaimed transit advocates (more are actually advocates of transit funding, with little concern about generating more transit ridership) seem to mere require the running of shiny trains to prove the success of rail. In fact, rail can be justified only by the extent to which it cost effectively reduces traffic congestion and increases transit ridership. Based upon those practical standards, any objective analysis of rail transit in Los Angeles has to conclude that it has been an extravagant failure.

The hoped-for traffic congestion reduction did not occur. Not only that, transit ridership did not increase. Today, there are 7 percent fewer riders on the MTA bus and rail services then there were on buses alone in 1985. By contrast, over the period, the population of Los Angeles County grew by approximately 20 percent.

But while MTA ridership was falling, costs increased substantially. The latest National Transit Database information (2010) indicates that MTA’s daily operating costs have increased nearly one third since 1985, after adjustment for inflation. This is before considering the approximately $12 billion (in 2011$) of local, state and federal tax funding used to build the rail lines. Thus, now spending $300 million more annually and approximately $12 billion in construction and related expenses, transit ridership remains below the 1985 level. Los Angeles and the nation’s taxpayers have spent that much money and the effect is not even to “tread water” in transit ridership.

The number of daily work trip commuters carried on the MTA light rail and subway system is miniscule. The US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data indicates that in 2011, approximately 20,000 daily one-way commuters used MTA’s six rail lines to get to work, little more than one-half of one percent of work trip commuting in Los Angeles County (3.6 million use cars daily to get to work).

At the same time, traffic volumes have increased substantially and travel speeds have declined. Since the first rail line opened in 1990, the average one-way work trip in Los Angeles County has increased nearly 3 minutes, from 26.5 minutes to 29.4 minutes in 2011.

By comparison, there has been a more than 100,000 increase in the number of people working at home (mostly telecommuting) since 1990 — five times the number of people commuting by rail. This increase in working at home has required virtually no tax funding, a stark contrast to the cost of rail.

The Los Angeles rail experience illustrates a fundamental difficulty in US and even international urban infrastructure policy. Too often, proponents confuse means and ends (objectives). Analysts often judge urban areas based upon issues such as the extent of rail transit systems. Yet, rail transit systems (and highways) are means, not objectives. Urban policy needs to focus on objectives. The purpose of urban areas is economic. People move to cities to improve their standard of living, not to ride trains, admire fountains or experience “good” urban planning. Perhaps the most important measure of an urban area’s performance is the amount of income households have left over after for the necessities of life, such as housing, food and, of course, taxes. Infrastructure is a means, but not the objective. It should be selected for its contribution to the objective of improving the standard of living of the urban area’s households.


Note: This article is adapted from a column in the Hawaii Reporter.


The Atlanta Transit Tax: For the 1 Percent


Voters in Atlanta, with some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation, are being asked to approve a new tax that would spend more than 50% on transit, in an urban area where transit carries only 1% of travel (Figure). No one is naive enough to think that the new billions for transit would improve traffic congestion. Worse, the distorted program would contribute to worse congestion by spending on billions on transit, which cannot reduce traffic congestion, instead of on roadways, which is the only way that traffic congestion can be reduced.

The July 31 vote is in 10 counties of the 28 county Atlanta metropolitan area. The measure would raise the sales tax by one cent, for $8 billion in transit and highway projects over 10 years.

In a metropolitan area in which barely one percent of travel is by transit, the tax measure would devote more than one-half of the funding to transit (see Figure).  As we wrote in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution commentary, the focus of any transportation revenue issue should be on reducing travel times, whether by transit or highways. This is how transportation improves an urban economy. The reality is that with nearly all travel by highways and transit’s inherently slower travel times, much of the tax money would be spent on strategies that have virtually no hope of reducing travel times or traffic congestion.

Atlanta’s Traffic Congestion: Promoters of the tax claim that the highway projects will reduce traffic congestion. Atlanta is well known for its serious traffic congestion. There are two reasons for this:

(1) Atlanta has a sparse freeway system, which is limited to little more than a belt route (I-285) and three radial freeways (I-20, I-75 and I-85) that converge into two downtown. Seven years ago, we rated Atlanta as having the least effective freeway system among major US urban areas. Nothing has happened to change that rating, except for the addition of 750,000 people. This tax issue will do virtually nothing to improve roadway travel on the regional level.

(2) Perhaps even worse, Atlanta’s regional arterial (high capacity streets) system is virtually non-existent. For this reason, we proposed (in 2000) development of a one-mile terrain constrained grid of arterials . A local editorial writer found this so hard to deal with it that he misrepresented it as a mile grid of freeways to make it look extreme. Later, the Atlanta Regional Council (ARC), the local metropolitan planning organization, included a somewhat more modest (but useful) arterial grid in is regional plan.

The Transit Tax: Fixing What Should have Already Been Fixed: The transit projects have virtually no potential to reduce work trip travel times and thus no potential to reduce traffic congestion. Approximately one-fifth of the transit funding would be used to rehabilitate and upgrade the MARTA subway system, a need that should have been legitimately funded from the existing MARTA sales tax.

The Transit Tax: Subsidizing Land Speculation: Another nearly 20 percent of the transit funding would be spent on the “Belt-Line” streetcar project in central Atlanta. The Belt-Line is more “city building” (read “real estate speculating”) than it is transportation. It will do nothing to reduce work trip travel times. Further, it is exceedingly costly. The extravagance of this project is illustrated by an annualized capital cost alone (principally construction) high enough to pay the lease on a new mid-sized car for each new regular passenger.

The Transit Tax: Emulating Miami? The history of transit is fraught with cost increases and project cancellation and delay as transit agencies, unable to control their rising costs, can spend money for day-to-day operations that had been planned to build new transit lines. This has happened with a vengeance in Miami, where a 2002 transit tax to expand the rail system has largely been frittered away in higher operating costs. It could happen in Atlanta.

The Road Projects: In a metropolitan area in which personal mobility predominates, roadway improvements, such as expansions, an arterial grid in Atlanta’s case and completion of the GA-DOT HOT (high occupancy toll) system provide the greatest potential for reducing travel times. There is another significant benefit to highway investments. As traffic speeds increase fuel efficiency improves and both air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are reduced.

With less than 50 percent of the funding going to roads, less than one-half the potential benefit of the $8 billion can be achieved. This ineffective return is felt by low income citizens almost to the same extent as everyone else. While 88 percent of all commuters in Atlanta travel by car, the figure is only slightly less (83 percent) among low income commuters (Figure 4).

What’s Right About Atlanta: For all its problems, Atlanta has much to be proud of. Former World Bank principal planner Alain Bertaud said of Atlanta in a 2002 study:

 While income and population were rising very fast, Atlanta managed to keep a very low cost of living. A worldwide cost of living survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2002 found that Atlanta had the lowest cost of living among major US cities and ranked 63rdamong major cities around the world. This achievement is remarkable in view of the rapid rate of growth of the metropolitan area over the last 20 years. It shows that while demographic and economic growth has certainly contributed to generate pollution and congestion, the various actors responsible for the management of metropolitan Atlanta must have done a lot of things right. High income growth and high demographic growth combined with a low cost of living suggests that labor markets are functioning well and that housing does not encounter important supply bottlenecks. (Note on Atlanta’s Superior Housing Affordabilitiy)

 Atlanta’s leadership should go back to the drawing board. A rational proposal is required to reduce Atlanta’s travel times (which are longer than its major US competitors, such as Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston) and grow the economy. There’s no point in spending more than 50 percent on the 1 percent.

(More at The Atlanta Transportation Tax: Too Much for Too Little.)



Note on Atlanta’s Superior Housing Affordability: Atlanta was most affordable major metropolitan area in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and Hong Kong in the 8th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey.


How The Lorax Learned to Love Foresters

Tomorrow, the motion picture version of Dr. Seuss’s book “The Lorax” will hit the big screen and the reviews indicate it sticks to the original 1971 storyline. In “The Lorax,” a businessman, the “Once-ler,” moves into town, cuts down all the trees and destroys the forest, air and water in the process. A furry creature, the Lorax, appears and proclaims, “I speak for the trees” and scolds the Once-ler for being “crazed with greed.”

The story is a product of its times, when people like Paul Ehrlich were claiming that the planet’s time was short and that pollution and resource scarcity would soon overwhelm mankind. Time has not been kind to Ehrlich, demonstrating that his predictions and those of other early-1970s environmentalists, were not based in sound economics or science.

Forty years later, The Lorax also shows its age. Since it was published, a different story has been written in forests across the globe. Rather than being at odds, the Once-ler and the Lorax have found a common interest in making sure forests grow and expand – and many of the world’s forests have benefited. Three things stand out.

  • Last year was the International Year of the Forest, and the United Nations offered some good news. For the last two decades, total land area covered by forest in the Northern Hemisphere – where forestry is particularly active – has increased.
  • Wood is increasingly recognized as one of the most environmentally friendly building materials. At the University of Washington, researchers compared the environmental impact of building with either wood, concrete or steel. The hands-down winner for lower energy use, less waste and less water use was wood. While concrete and steel can only be mined once, trees are constantly replacing themselves.
  • In “The Lorax,” the Once-ler’s business collapses when all the trees are gone. Foresters understand this. Destroying a forest by cutting down every last tree makes no sense, so there are more trees in American forests today than there were just a few decades ago. Replanting isn’t just good for the environment, it’s good for business.

Forty years after he sprung from the imagination of Dr. Seuss, the Lorax would be happy to see that, far from disappearing, many forests today are thriving. They are there because the real story of the forests has not been about an unending battle between the fictional Lorax and the hard-hearted Once-ler, but of a friendship that understands that both benefit from healthy forests future generations can enjoy.



Fraud and Heartland: A Scandal for Climate Alarmists not Skeptics

The past week a great deal of ink has been spilt and bytes used covering the theft (through fraud) and release of private documents from the Heartland Institute.  Some of the documents were real, but the main document was evidently fabricated – yet this is the document that sparked an acclaimed climate researcher, a strong voice for the argument that humans are causing global warming, to commit fraud to obtain further documents and then release them to the public. The Heartland Institute has responded well and I need not defend them.

Sadly (for him), Peter Gleick, the researcher at issue, could have obtained a good deal of the information he sought through a request for Heartland’s 990, a tax document that non-profits have to provide to any who request it. Rather than going through legitimate channels to obtain what information he could or, better still, questioning the veracity of the initial document he received  — and there were many reasons to question that document, among them the fact that it was delivered to him anonymously — using someone else’s name, a Heartland board member — he requested internal documents. Despite all the sound and fury surrounding this episode over the last week, really, nothing new was learned in the memos.  As Time Magazine summed it up: “The alleged memos seem to confirm that the Heartland Institute is trying to push it’s highly skeptical view of climate science into the public sphere, which is only surprising if you’ve paid exactly zero attention to the climate debate over the past decade.”

Gleick admits that his actions were wrong and apologized but said he did it out of “frustration.”

One has to ask, frustration over what?   Is he perhaps frustrated with the fact that he and his fellow climate alarmists have, as of yet, been unable to convince Americans that the scientific case for climate action is settled and stampede them into calling for  policies that forcibly restrict energy use?  Daily polls show more American’s are coming to doubt the argument that human actions are causing a warming that would result in catastrophic climate change.  Or perhaps he is frustrated with the fact that an increasing number of scientists – scientists with as good or better credentials and reputations as those who argue that humans are causing warming — continue to highlight the weakness, discrepancies and contradictions that continue to plague global warming theory and demonstrate that the case in far from closed.  Perhaps Glieck and his ilk are frustrated because they constantly bray that scientists and think tanks that show skepticism concerning one or another critical point of global warming theory are exceedingly well-funded; when the reality is, and Gleick knows it, these scientist and think tanks are very modestly funded when compared to the billions that are spent to on climate research, politics and on politically favored technologies by governments, billionaires and corporations who will benefit from climate policies, and the non-profit foundations and think tanks that want to use fear of global warming to reshape the Western economic system into what they believe would be a more humane, equitable (socialist), global version of society.  A society where international bodies, with bureaucracies staffed by “experts” beyond the reach of crass democratic politics and mass opinion will steer the ship of global-state in the direction of the “true” public good.

Time magazine notes that if anything, the Heartland memos debunk the idea of a well-funded “. . . vast right-wing conspiracy,” behind global warming skepticism.

Who says the Progressive era has passed?

For follow-ups on this see:

Romm’s Rage Shtick:


More on Peter Gleick: